Top 5 Things to See and Do in Budapest
Updated: Dec 5, 2019
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We had the pleasure of visiting Budapest during our month-long stay in Vienna. We had some family visiting us in Vienna and they really wanted to visit Budapest while they were in town so we tagged along for the ride. It’s only a 2.5 hour train ride away and by the end of our 5 day visit, we wish we could have stayed longer. If we’re lucky, we’ll be able to make it back before our year long adventure is over.
[Fun fact: Buda and Pest were two different cities until they were combined in 1873, creating Budapest.]
If you find yourself visiting with limited time, be sure to prioritize these Top 5 Things to See and Do in Budapest.
#5 - Central Market Hall
On the day we arrived in Budapest, we were all famished so we headed straight for Central Market Hall. Over 100 years old, the building itself and its three floors were a sight to see. The market was buzzing with shoppers and tourists alike. The basement floor is mostly for fish, seafood, and all things pickled, produce and spice vendors on the main floor, and hot food is sold on the 1st floor (referred to as the 2nd floor in the US). We headed upstairs in search of lunch. [Fair warning that the market can get incredibly crowded.]
We found a vendor selling something that was a cross between a gyro, grilled cheese, and a pizza. Cheesy bread grilled, piled high with toppings, and folded over once. With such a large serving, the two of us shared one and it was delicious!
After eating, we traversed the main floor hunting for a locally-produced, fresh tin of dried paprika. Let me tell you...shopping in central market during a busy day is an adventure! We found our treasure and headed out to explore more of the city.
Whether you’re in search of paprika, salami, apricots, or anything in between, you will likely find it at the Central Market Hall.
#4 - Fisherman’s Bastion
Located on the Buda side of the Danube, the Fisherman’s Bastion is part of Buda Castle and was built between 1895 and 1902. Also, since the Bastion is located high on the hill, there are some of the best views of the city. To us it felt like it belonged in a Disney movie or some kind of fairy tale.
What tourists see of the Bastion today was never used as a fortification, but rather was built to celebrate the 1000th birthday of the Hungarian state. It was intended to have beautiful panorama terraces and we absolutely indulged in a few too many photos.
We chose to take the funicular ride from the river up to Buda Castle and then walked to the Fisherman’s Bastion. If you are looking for some exercise (and want to save the cost of the funi ride), walking up to the Fisherman’s Bastion would be a great way to do that!
#3 - St. Stephen’s Basilica
Located on the Pest side of the river, St. Stephen’s Basilica and its surrounding area were fun to explore. We had the good fortune of having booked an Airbnb just around the corner from St. Stephen’s Basilica. And it gets better...there was an outdoor concert scheduled for Saturday night!
The square is filled with restaurants, cafes, and ice cream stands. It seemed to be the busiest at night after the weather would cool off a bit.
You can tour the inside of St. Stephen’s Basilica but they require your knees and shoulders be covered. Given our summer attire (complete with both knees and shoulders showing...gasp) we did not get the opportunity to tour inside but have no doubt it would be beautiful.
#2 - Gellert Thermal Baths
Visiting one of the many thermal baths sounded like a unique experience that we just had to try and we’re glad we did! In our minds, we pictured the ancient Roman or Greek bath houses and we were not disappointed. After selecting Gellert from the list of the “best baths in Budapest” we purchased two daily admission tickets for $40 USD which included locker rental.
After changing into our swimsuits, we wound our way through a maze of hallways leading to the baths. And we seriously mean “maze” as it would be very easy to get lost!
There was an indoor effervescent pool which seemed to be used mostly as a lap pool and requires a hair net (which you can rent if desired). There was an adjacent warm bath that had people just sitting and soaking. There were four more indoor baths, two baths in each of two huge domed rooms with beautifully tiled walls and stained glass windows. There were saunas, a steam room, and even an outdoor wave pool! Round that out with a cafe on the upper level that serves coffee, soda, juice, beer, wine, and ice cream and you have a full day’s worth of fun.
#1 - Evening River Cruise on the Danube
This is by far the #1 thing you need to do if you’re only in the area for a few days.
Several people had mentioned to us that an evening river cruise in Budapest is a must. And while we typically avoid activities that sound 100% touristy, we signed up for this one and we are very glad we did.
After some brief online research, there didn’t seem to be much differentiation amongst the ~15 or so companies who hosted river cruises. Each of them even included a beverage of your choice (beer, wine, champagne, or non-alcoholic). We booked this Budapest Danube River Evening Cruise for $85 USD for four people (since we had family visiting).
There was a headset at each seat programmed with over 10 language options that would explain the history of different sites along the river as we cruised.
Until then we had no idea how stunning the city was all lit up at night! Our photos and videos hardly do it justice (but that didn’t stop us from trying, of course). You just have to see it for yourself. The Parliament House was the most impressive in our opinion. Can you believe it took almost 20 years to build?!
With so much to see and do in Budapest, we found it hard to choose a Top 5 so here’s the honorable mention list in case you have more time in this great city! Sticking any of these into Google maps should point you in the right direction.
Hero’s Square, Shoes on the Danube, Liberty Statue, Funi to Buda Castle, Erzsébet Square (near St. Stephens and the ferris wheel)
Két Szerecsen, Cafe Kuglof, Leila’s Authentic Lebanese Cuisine
Ruin pubs, Király utca
Overall, we were very impressed by Budapest and surprised to realize we hadn’t discovered it sooner. What about you? Have you been? If so, we’d love to hear about it in the comments!
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